Francis Asbury: God’s Circuit Rider
by Charles Ludwig (Milford, Michigan: Mott Media, 1984) 206 pp., paper, $5.94 used.
If someone is looking for a short, simple history of American Methodism, Francis Asbury would be hard to beat. Written at about a junior high level this biography of the most important circuit rider and Methodist Bishop in the early years of the Methodist movement in America, is filled with both English and American history of the 18th and 19th century. While never considered a great preacher, Asbury was nevertheless a great leader and inspiration to those early followers of John Wesley’s theology and system designed to develop holiness in the saints.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle Asbury had to overcome pertained to the ordinances. Wesley did not seek to start a new denomination and was comfortable remaining in the Anglican church. The movement he founded came alongside the established church to aid in Christian growth and sanctification. As a result, he did not ordain clergy nor allow his preachers to baptize or serve communion. Many in American wanted to establish their own church and allow for the ordinances. It was the Revolutionary War which broke the deadlock between Methodist factions. When many Anglican priests returned to England because their allegiance lay with King George, it left a ministerial vacuum and few to baptize new converts or serve the elements to believers. Thus, the Methodist denomination was formed with the power to ordain both pastors and bishops, with Asbury serving as the first bishop. As America expanded westward, the Methodist circuit riding preachers tagged along resulting in rapid growth of the denomination.
When Asbury came to America in 1773, Methodists numbered 1,160. When he died in 1816, membership had nearly 215,000 and Methodism had become the fastest growing denomination in the country, thanks to Francis Asbury and men like him.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel